Under Thirty Page
CAN I BE A CHRISTIAN ?-V [The writer (who is feminine) is a Cambridge graduate, aged 27, at present working in an Advertising Agency] WE are living today in what we call the Age of Science ; it might with equal truth be described as the Age of Scepticism. For those of us, at any rate, who are under thirty are much more ready to disbelieve everything than to believe in anything. To accept nothing on trust, to question every belief held by our forefathers—this is the basis of our outlook on life. And such an outlook is bound to react on our attitude towards religion, that part of our life which is founded on faith.
There is a view frequently expressed which sums up the attitude of many of the younger generation ; that religion is only a hobby pre-eminently suitable for such elderly maiden ladies as have nothing better to do ; some of us, with a little more insight, add that it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you lead a decent life—two very sweeping statements which, though they contain, as such generalisations frequently do, a germ of truth, are dangerous if accepted without reservations. To these I would add a third generalisation, perhaps no more reliable than the previous two but still with its kernel of truth : that it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you believe. For there is no useful life possible without belief, and it is this belief that becomes a man's religion. We are all members of a social structure in which interdependence becomes increas- ingly evident. If the life of the individual is to count for anything it will be determined by his contribution to that society ; by the measure of his striving towards a better state where are freedom, peace and goodwill.
But it is not sufficient merely to lead a virtuous and a godly life. There are many of us who are prepared to lead such lives ; to help the poor and needy ; to be kind and charitable when occasion offers ; to interfere with no man's pleasure ; to cause no man pain. We are very good fellows, overflowing with the milk of human kindness ; we do our duty as responsible citizens of the State. Such a life is easy and attractive, but it is of little value, for it contributes nothing towards the progress of society. There is more required of us than this ; our lives must be directed to some purpose ; there must be some underlying faith which shall keep us striving to that end. We may believe in and strive for Marxism, Socialism, Democracy. We may believe in and strive for what is perhaps the highest ideal, Chris- tianity, the service of mankind.
Is it sufficient to lead, to believe in the Christian life? Religion has another and greater part ; worship—the " church-going " which we tolerantly reserve for the old and the feeble while we devote our own activities to a more tangible end. It is this that proves the stumbling block in our acceptance of Christianity. We are ready and willing to subscribe to the ideals of the Christian life ; to take part in Christian worship is too difficult for us. Yet the very great value of some form of communal worship cannot be denied ; that very effort required to take part in it contri- butes in a large measure to its worth.
Worship is an expression of the spiritual side of religion, as opposed to the active, tangible expression of religion in our lives. There is in every man a greater or less part of the "piritual which requires opportunity for expression if that man is to lead a full and vital life. The painter, the musician, the poet may express something of this each in his work. The ordinary man to whom such outlook is denied requires some other medium. It is this which has given birth to all forms of spiritual expression, from the religious culture of primitive races to the Christianity of the Western world. !/lost of us, though we do not always admit it even to our- ;'-ives, have felt this urge. Perhaps in the vaulted stillness of a great cathedral ; among the crumbling ruins of a great abbey where still lives the spirit that inspired its creation ; alone on the moors where the wind blows over the heath.
For an instant we forget ourselves and become a part of some greater being. Here we are taught to worship by the greatest works of man and of nature ; but here we worship alone.
There are those other rare, still greater moments when we assist at an act of communal worship and become no longer self-centred individuals but members of a vast communion.
Such worship we need, and for such worship we turn to the Church. What has the Christian Church to offer us ?
What is there in Divine service which shall stir the sluggard spirit into communion ? The response is only too frequently inadequate ; a building which is small and ugly ; the parson a kindly but unintelligent and uninspired man ; the service dull and spiritless ; the hymns apparently chosen because the Vicar feels it his duty to go through the list of hymns A. and M.
once a year, and the sermon often enough only an irritating though well meant discourse on the comparative failings of Fascism and Communism. This is not what we have sought ; we are hardly to be blamed that we give up without much effort and spend our Sundays out in the country. And so we lead our lives without the Spirit.
We have no right to complain because the Church does not make worship easy ; for an act of communion must require some effort on our part. But we need an incentive ; we are justified in asking for assistance. Yet far from helping us, the services which we are expected to attend frequently make this act an impossibility. We want to sing and are provided with hymns that are bad poetry set to bad music ; we want to pray and are treated to a list of petitions gabbled through in a monotonous undertone ; we come to hear a preacher who shall stir the spirit in us and are given a dissertation on some irrelevant point of doctrine. These are not merely external aids to worship ; they are the only means we have of spiritual expression. We have sought inspiration and have found none. Further, we are required to subscribe to a doctrine which we cannot in sincerity accept without question. To take part in Divine service requires more sacrifices than we are able to make ; of reason, of intellect, of art, of freedom. What we get in return is not sufficient compensa- tion ; and so we have given up the habit of church going and have sought a substitute in the political creeds that are prevalent today.
The inadequacy of the Church to fulfil the needs of the younger generation seems largely to lie in the over-emphasis of doctrine at the expense of the Spirit. It raises serious difficulties. We have been taught to seek for proof in every- thing. We cannot entirely accept the explanation of the Christian faith with which the Church has furnished us. Will the Church allow us to interpret this faith in our own way?
How much does it matter whether or not we can believe in the Divinity of Christ ? What do we mean by the existence of God ? The conception has arisen from the desire to worship ; because man desired to express his conception of the Spirit in his own language, God was created in the image of man. And this Divinity has become a personal adviser and assistant in trouble ; a Being to whom one prays for the things of this world. We are justified in asking for a wider, truer conception of God : the Spirit that is in all of us. Will the Church allow us to believe this ? To believe that the Divinity of Christ lies in His being the first man to preach the Christian faith ? A man in whom so great a part of the Spirit dwelt ? Perhaps we demand that our faith should be made too easy for us. I do not think this is so. I believe that, though we may not ourselves realise it, there is a great need for a faith that we can accept. And I believe Christianity will supply this need.